The European Commission votes to ban the use of neonicotinoids

Red-tailed bumblebee ©Jon Hawkins - Surrey Hills Photography

The Wildlife Trusts welcome the news that the member states of the European Commission, of which the UK are a part, have voted to apply a complete ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in agriculture.

Neonicotinoids are a class of neuro-active insecticides chemically similar to nicotine [1].  Experts have revealed that neonicotinoid chemicals do have a harmful effect on insect pollinators, including honeybees and bumblebees [2]. Scientists have recorded this impact across the natural world: in the soil, vegetation, freshwater and the sea. This has serious consequences for processes we humans rely on to survive, such as pollination. 

The Wildlife Trusts believe that the continued use of these chemicals in the UK would represent a huge risk to insect pollinator populations and the health of the natural world. Pollination is vital to maintain a huge range of plant and animal life and to ensure we have a good supply of crops to eat. Many scientists believe that loss of pollinators would cost the UK economy around £1.8 billion per year [3] and would be a disaster for the environment [4].

Honey Bee

Honey Bee ©Nick Upton/2020VISION

In late 2017, The Secretary of State for Defra, Michael Gove announced that the Government would be supporting a ban in Europe on neonicotinoids. This was a U-turn on the Government’s previous position. According to their 25 Year Environment Plan, the Government supports this ban because “of the growing weight of scientific evidence they are harmful to bees and other pollinators”[5]. This plan also states that “unless the scientific evidence changes, the Government will maintain these increased restrictions after we leave the EU” [6].

The Wildlife Trusts believe that efforts to control the damaging impacts of pests should align with a move to make farming in the UK more sustainable. We set out how we believe farmers could deliver more for society here. Simple measures could be put in place to make farming far more wildlife friendly; such as growing strips of wild flowers, creating nesting sites and introducing foraging resources that support more healthy populations [7].

Notes on the evidence

  • The risk of environmental contamination is high, and the impacts of neonicotinoid pollution have already been documented in the Netherlands, where high levels of imidacloprid pollution have been linked to declines in insectivorous farmland birds [8].
  • A long-term study of 62 species over 18 years conducted by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology found that species foraging on oilseed rape were three times more negatively affected by exposure to neonicotinoids than non-crop foragers [9].

What are the wildlife Trusts doing for pollinators – just a handful of examples:

  • Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust are working through The Greater Lincolnshire Nature Partnership (GLNP) to increase habitat for pollinators across the farm clusters involved in the project. This follows on from their work to assess the impact of increased maize cropping on pollinators. 
  • Through their Green Lanes for Bumblebees project, Kent Wildlife Trust are providing habitat advice to benefit pollinators on 17 sites. This advice will benefit 300ha plus an additional 36km of road verges.
  • Worcestershire Wildlife Trust’s Wild Pollinator Health Check is a five-year project focussed on developing habitats and nesting sites for pollinators in Worcestershire. This approach coordinates the efforts of several farmers across a strategic area to establish viable populations of wild pollinators.



    1. Ed. by Abd-Elgawad, Askary & Coupland, 2017. Biocontrol Agents: Entomopathogenic and Slug Parasitic Nematodes. CABI 
    2. Woodcock, et al. 2016. Impacts of neonicotinoid use on long-term population changes in wild bees in England. Nature Communications, 7:12459. Study conducted by the Centre for Hydrology & Ecology.
    3. UK National Ecosystem Assessment (2011) UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge.
    4. Chagnon, et al. 2015. Risks of large-scale use of systemic insecticides to ecosystem functioning and services. Environ. Sci. Pollut. Res., 22: 119.
    7. Potts, et al. 2016. The assessment report on pollinators, pollination and food production: summary for policymakers.
    8. Caspar et al. 2014. Declines in insectivorous birds are associated with high neonicotinoid concentrations. Nature 511:341-343
    9. Woodcock, B. A., et al., (2016) Impacts of neonicotinoid use on long-term population changes in wild bees in England. Nature Communications, 7:12459. Study conducted by the Centre for Hydrology & Ecology.